If you cook this meal you will feel like you put your fingers in a pencil sharpener. Especially if you use your mandolin to make the perfect ¼ inch thick crescent moon slices of red potatoes called for in the Goody Girl Championship Potatoes recipe in Guy Fieri Food. Fieri is the spiky-haired dude on The Food Network who travels around eating spectacular diner food on his show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” His first book includes his stop at St. Louis’s own Iron Barley.
Left Bank Books hosted a booksigning with Guy when he was in St. Louis recently with his Guy Fieri Food Road Show. I spent the better part of an afternoon taking copies of his book out of dazzled fans’ hands, opening them to the right page and handing them off to “Stretch.” Stretch is a sculptor and the owner of Grinder’s, a Kansas City-based “dive” featured on Guy’s show. Stretch handed the opened books off to Guy and ushered the star-blinded fans to his side for a photo. Guy stood right where rocker Sammy Hagar had signed a month before. Turns out they are friends and one of Guy’s recipes in the new book was developed for Sammy. Small world.
Later that day, Stretch would be on stage at the Touhill with Guy where he would roll out a “blender” the size of a washing machine that he welded together from spare parts, including garbage disposals. He and Guy could not pass around the gallons of finished product because the Touhill prohibits drinking and eating in its auditorium. Not a great place for this show, which depends on people getting progressively drunker and rowdier throughout the evening. It’s literally a three-ring circus of food demo-ing, music and drink mixing, and in the right venue, a fair amount of food and drink flinging. I would have loved this show more at say, a state fair.
Guy grew up on a hog farm. His tour was sponsored by The Pork Council. My meat-eating extends to chicken. But I got a book signed anyway for my foodie 13-year-old and cracked it open Saturday to have a go.
Advice to the adventurous: when you are going to try a pork recipe after basically never having cooked a pig-based product past bacon, don’t start with Guy’s “Summer Grilled Pork.”
First of all, Guy doesn’t go into a lot of detail in his book about technique so if you aren’t pretty sure of yourself you might wind up with half the ingredients in the bowl wondering if you should have blanched, roasted, or peeled something first. To accompany the pork, I made Guy’s Kale with Roasted Beets and Bacon (didn’t use the bacon), and the aforementioned Goody Girl potato salad, again with bacon-didn’t-use-the-bacon. Beets bleed all over you, perhaps a blessing since I was already bleeding from the tragic mandolin accident earlier. Guy should perhaps mention that food gloves might come in handy here, especially if you plan on entertaining later.
But back to the pork. Buy four 1-inch boneless pork loins. Then take them home and, in the words of Ysma on The Emperor’s New Groove (funniest family movie ever), “Smash them with a hammer.” Ok, not a hammer, too small, but something that will be strong enough to mash out the flesh from 1 inch to ¼ inch. After spending about 20 minutes pounding away with the back of my ice cream scoop, I gave up, got out the cast iron skillet, and banged on those hapless pieces of porcine matter like I was a steel-driving man. I almost got them to ¼ inch, I’m going to say it was more like 3/8ths. You will not need to go to the gym for a few days after performing this procedure. Maybe to the chiropractor instead. Or to a course in anger management.
After you have repaired your worktable from the assault, you lay out a big piece foil, arrange a sheet made from slices of thick bacon and then lay the pork loins on top. Add some cream cheese, roasted red peppers, and artichoke hearts and then roll it like a gigantic maki roll. Grill this massive foiled burrito “for 7 to 8 minutes on each of the four sides,” Guy writes. No temperature mentioned. When the time came to turn it onto its folded edge, as I feared, bacon grease came pouring out and four foot high flames leapt upwards towards Ameren’s lines and a conveniently dead branch on the maple tree. I don’t think you can squirt water on a grease fire on a gas grill.
Shortly before this part of the preparation, our dinner guest, Kathleen Finneran, author of the beautiful memoir, The Tender Land, had arrived, and theoretically, I was supposed to be visiting. But Jay kept her company in the living room. And anyone who’s been to dinner more than once at our house knows about my No Fly Zone in the kitchen.
As I contemplated my next move, Jay called from the house to see if I could find our advanced copy of Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante to loan to Kathleen. It’s a great read written from the perspective of a retired female orthopedic surgeon who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. It has a murder in it and the narration makes it absolutely un-put-downable. It comes out July 5.
“Not a good time,” I called from the flaming grill. Long-handled tongs came in very handy here as I could not even approach the lid of the grill to close it, my solution to the fire being to ignore it. “Do you need any help out there,” Jay or Kathleen called to me from their safe confidence that I knew what I was doing. “No, I’m ok,” I replied. Not really, I thought, but perhaps what they don’t know won’t hurt them.
When the time comes, you are supposed to open the grill, take the foil off the bacon-wrapped pork loaf, and “crisp the bacon” on the grill, while basting it with the honey mustard sauce you have prepared in the meantime. But instead, I was trepidatiously peeling soot-blackened foil from $40 of groceries. I discovered that far from need to crisp the bacon, I would need to call in a forensics specialist in fire events to verify that the charcoal crusted loaf was indeed covered in bacon. Good thing Kathleen is a good friend, I thought.
Kathleen and Jay swear to me that my rendition of Guy Fieri’s Summer Grilled Pork was really good and had seconds and thirds, eating the immolated bacon along with the delicate interior. Later, back from working the Shirley Strawberry/Lyah Leflore event, Jay’s sister gobbled it down, too. I’m not planning to try this again unless someone else bangs the pork (ok, off-color joke), and I have a way to prevent another oil spill.
Remember the potatoes alluded to in the opening of this story? Goody Girl potatoes are adapted by Guy for his book. Not sure what he brought to the recipe. But it is sinfully and undeniably delicious, probably because of the stick of butter, cup of grated cheddar cheese, and sour cream involved. Don’t eat this if you care about cholesterol. The really cool part of this recipe is that you boil the potatoes in crab boil, which imparts a fabulous bouquet of slightly exotic taste to the little spuds. I stood over the pot sampling their undressed little selves for several minutes to be sure I wanted to serve them to Kathleen or just hoard them aside for later. I will definitely try this potato boiling technique again even if I don’t use them in this recipe. Which, by the way, is supposed to be a warm potato salad, and involve some bacon (of course), but I chose to spread it in a casserole like scalloped potatoes and keep it warm in the oven while I put the finished touches on my fire-fighting lesson in the backyard.
Guy’s kale is not much different than mine, except that he uses apple cider vinegar and I use soy sauce. We agree on lots of slivered garlic. The roasted beets stirred into Guy’s kale is wonderful, but again, my mandolin-shaved, charcoal-blackened and beet reddened digits were a reminder as to why people who can afford it hire caterers. Plus, you don’t need the bacon in the kale. Already I was serving an entire pound of bacon, 4 pork loins, and a stick of butter to basically two people. It’s just too Paula Deen for my tastes even if I’m not eating most of it.
In case you are wondering, I grilled myself a chicken breast rubbed with a rosemary, sea salt, garlic, and olive oil paste and loved the honey mustard dressing meant for the pork. On Sunday, I nursed my digits and pined for a masseuse. But they say the best thing is to get right back on the horse so I’m planning to make pasta from scratch with a seafood sauce for dinner tonight. My kneadin’ arms need a workout.